5Ws+1H: What It's About: HSCC coordinator offers tips for dealing with dog 'separation anxiety'

·3 min read

Oct. 5—Dogs with separation anxiety can have a hard time learning to deal with their guardians being gone — something owners have had to face over the past year due to the pandemic.

"We were in COVID for months and months, so the dog is used to you being home. Then all of a sudden, you leave and go to work. That dog doesn't know what happened," said Alexis Colvard, transport coordinator for the Humane Society of Cherokee County. "So [separation] anxiety could be something it was born with, or it could be something that triggers it to happen."

Being left alone for the first time; being left alone when accustomed to constant human contact; suffering a traumatic event; and changes to a family's routine or structure, or loss of a family member or pet, can all prompt distress in a dog, according to the Humane Society of the United States. Signs of separation anxiety include digging and scratching at doors and windows, destructive chewing, howling and barking, and urination and defecation.

Colvard said if owners don't want their homes destroyed, the pets should probably go into a crate. She said if dogs are trained to know their crates are safe places, they'll get used to going into them.

"I have one dog that I feed in the crate, so she knows to always go there for food or her safety place," she said.

After being gone at work all day, owners might feel obligated to greet their dogs as soon as they get home. It's important, however, that people don't make a big deal out of coming or going.

"You should not reward them for jumping up on you and being all excited when you first get home," Colvard said. "Otherwise, you're enticing the behavior. So you need them to remain calm. Ignore them until they listen to your commands of calming down or sitting down. Everyone doesn't see that as bad behavior, because that's their baby, but that's not the kind of behavior you're wanting out of your dog. If you want to stay in charge, you have to lay down the law."

To deal with separation anxiety, people can try leaving articles of clothing or a blanket they use in the dog's crate or near it. The used fabric can have a calming scent for the dogs. In some situations where a dog has gotten out of the house, Colvard said people will leave clothing outside to attract the dogs back home.

An owner could hire a pet sitter to watch the dog during the day or give walks. Interactive toys can distract canines and prevent them from chewing up other items. Taking a dog on a long walk is an effective way to tire it out, too. Colvard suggests people leave a radio or TV on if their dogs are suffering from separation anxiety, as the noise can make dogs feel like somebody is still home.

"For the worst anxiety, they've got calming medicines — prescription and non-prescription," Colvard said.

Owners shouldn't use punishment as a way to treat anxiety, as it would only make the situation worse. Getting another dog as a companion won't help.

People with questions about separation anxiety in dogs could bring them to the Humane Society's Tahlepaws event on Oct. 30, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., at Phoenix Park in Tahlequah. Pet owners can get free medicine, information, and more.

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